The organization said the decision was made after a two-year review by a special committee of professional staffers and volunteers.
"The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting," said Bob Mazzuca, chief scout executive. "While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society."
The membership rule applies mainly to adult volunteers and staffers within the organization, because there are relatively few openly gay boys. GLAAD, one of the country's largest gay and lesbian groups, in a news release responding to the Boy Scouts' decision cited two recent leaders who were dismissed because of their sexual orientation.
Eric Jones, a New York-area Eagle Scout, was dismissed as a camp counselor after he told the director at a Boy Scout camp he is homosexual.
"I'd been working on coming out," Jones told the New York Daily News. "I thought it was time to have my life of scouting and my other life come together. He [the director] said I was deserving to be there, but he had to follow the policy of BSA."
Jennifer Tyrell, who was dismissed as a leader in her son's Boy Scout troop because of her sexual orientation, plans to present the BSA with petitions bearing 250,000 signatures at its Dallas headquarters Wednesday, GLAAD said.